The name Lenten Rose is now used to describe a group of plants which are the product of much cross-breeding. You will find them sold as Helleborus orientalis, or Helleborus x hybridus, or simply Hellebores. From the original colour range of pink, white and red, we now have a huge range of shades from white, yellow, palest pink to deepest plum, lime green, apricot and slatey purple. There are single and double forms, speckled petals and anemone centres. Breeding continues to extend the range, creating larger blooms on taller stems, and with upward and outward facing flowers.
They are invaluable plants for the winter garden, providing colour and interest at a sparse time of year. A mature clump will reach 30-45cm in height and spread. They are extremely hardy, ‘wilting’ worryingly after a severe frost only to perk up undamaged when the temperature rises later in the day. They do not make good cut flowers. Perhaps the best way to display them indoors is to float the upturned blooms in a shallow dish of water.
The Christmas Rose is Helleborus niger. About 30cm high and a little more across, it has dark, evergreen, hand-shaped leaves. The flowers are generally white, sometimes flushed pink. They may be single or double and have a prominent cluster of golden stamens. Despite its name, it cannot be relied upon to be in flower for Christmas.